Another moment of genius from the early Stones. From their severely underrated album “Out of our Heads” comes this cover of a song first recorded by Solomon Burke in 1962. Like many of their early great songs, the song builds wonderful tension that explodes during the chorus. Classic rock stations: burn that freakin’ copy of “Hot Rocks 1964-1971” you play ad nauseum and start digging deep!!!
Pre-major label Social D. covers one of the Rolling Stones’ most beautiful and most troubling songs.
The original is a lovely-sounding acoustic ballad, where the protagonist is a rich guy who tells his mistress in no uncertain terms what her place is in his life. As I said earlier about the Stones’ original, “Jagger and the gang could be doing an ironic Randy Newman-esque take on a sleazy, phliandering rich guy, which I would buy … except for the fact that I’m sure that the attitude of the song’s narrator is not far from the way they probably felt about women back in the day. A great song with contradictory and often troubling messages? Hmm … sounds like the Stones to me in a nutshell.”
Social D. says “Ah, bulls–t!” to such nonsense and just bashes through the song as Social D. is wont to do. I can’t say that they’re wrong in their approach.
One of the best crime thrillers of the last 15 years, “A Simple Plan” has never quite gotten its due. It was based on a best-selling novel, had perfect actors for their respective roles (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe, Bridget Fonda), had a terrific script by the novel’s author Scott B. Smith, and excellent directing by Sam Raimi. It got some respectful nods from critics, Oscar nominations for Thornton and Smith, but bombed at the box office and has now been virtually forgotten.
That’s too bad, because this is a superior, intelligent thriller that presents more ethical quandaries and dilemmas than a graduate course on Ethics. The premise seems simple: three men find over $4 million in the woods near a crashed plane and decide to keep it. But then things unravel … and all three men find themselves in a world of danger that keeps escalating and the men find themselves doing things they would have never thought possible.
It reminds me of something I read once … maybe by Russian philosopher and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin … that basically asserted that it’s not one act that causes man to act unethically. If you wonder how you would act if presented with a significant moral and ethical dilemma, your answer is in how you act when presented with arguably minor ethical dilemmas (i.e. getting too much change back from a cashier, finding that jewelry item you reported missing after were paid for the item by your insurance company). It’s the little decisions you make in your day to day life that comprises your character and what will define what you do in the face of a horrible decision. Nobody’s perfect and even good people can make bad decisions. But a callous disregard for such things in minor situations is likely to lead to more horrendous decisions later. I may be wrong on whether it was Bakhtin that said this, but the sentiment holds very strongly to this film … and to what I have seen is behind most people’s very bad decisions.
“A Simple Plan” is deep. Very deep. And it will stay with you for days.
One of the best films about teenagers ever made, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was based on screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s real-life attempt to go back to high school undercover and write about what high school life was really like. The results are very funny, though they’re also sometimes extremely painful and awkward. Director Heckerling was especially sensitive in viewing how these kids were experiencing life. The characters are young, but they also face many things we tend to regard as adult issues (i.e. employment issues, unplanned pregnancies). I don’t know if things these days are better or worse for teenagers … especially given how nasty things have gotten with bullying, the internet, etc., but also with helicopter parenting being accepted as normal.
This scene between Sean Penn’s stoner character and Ray Walston’s teacher is a comedy classic. Walston’s character may be a “dick,” but he also deals with Penn’s character in a very calm, non-hysterical way … that’s also funny as hell. Seriously, what would YOU do, if you had Penn’s character as a student? I think it speaks volumes for Heckerling’s and Crowe’s instincts to have them at least come to a meeting of the minds at the end of the film. They’ll never be buddies, but you get the sense that there is a mutual respect there.
“Baadasssss!” is Mario Van Peebles’ personal tale of the trials and tribulations his father Melvin Van Peebles went through in making his revolutionary independent film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” in 1971, a film that had as its tagline “Rated X by an all-white jury.”
Mario’s father Melvin had just had a box-office hit with “The Watermelon Man” and everyone in Hollywood wanted to sign Melvin up for his next film. But Melvin had different ideas. He wanted to make a film that would be authentically raw and street, but the moneymen and Hollywood moguls were terrified and said no. So Melvin raised the money on his own and created a truly revolutionary film for its time. This process did come at a price though, especially for his family and his son, Mario.
However, the rest is film history and “Baadasssss!” is one of the rawest and best True Hollywood Stories you’ll ever see. It’s a very sincere attempt by a son to honestly (and sometimes painfully) portray a father’s genius and shortcomings without giving short-shrift to either. One of the best films of the past decade, one of the best films about filmmaking ever made, and one of the best films I’ve ever seen period.
A mature and meaningful love / breakup song from Earle’s “Jerusalem” album that was overshadowed by the controversy over “John Walker’s Blues.” An instant classic that’s just waiting to be covered and made into a huge hit.
A song that’s always a breath of fresh air on any 80s mix. “Under the Milky Way” is a lovely and eerie acoustic-guitar (and bagpipes ?!?) driven ballad that got as high as number 24 on the Billboard singles chart in 1988. Considering the crap that was on the Top 40 that year, that’s quite an accomplishment. Produced by Warren Zevon’s producing right-hand man Waddy Wachtel.
Punk rock didn’t start in the 1970s. It’s roots were arguably in the 1950s and especially, the early 1960s. The Shangri-Las were as street as the New York Dolls or any of the CBGB punk bands that emerged in the 1970s. So what if they weren’t singing about sniffing glue or having personality crises?
I remember hearing this song a lot when I was a kid on an oldies compilation my parents had. The drama and beach sound effects always haunted me. I didn’t know what the singer was feeling (and wouldn’t know it for real for several years), but it sounded like the end of the world.
Yes, this song is horrendously melodramatic and may only seem to be about the aftermath of a teenage breakup … but that’s what makes it so incredibly cool. As we get older and more jaded, it’s hard to remember how events we now see as trivial or not a big deal mean THE WORLD to someone younger. And yes, when you break up with someone when you’re that young, it really does seem like the end of the world. This is one of those songs that seriously and accurately conveys the drama of one’s first break-up. Something to keep in mind when your own kids will inevitably face the same thing later in life.
And if you’re at all intrigued by the Shangri-Las’ story (and it is a compelling one), be sure to download the ultra-cool Kindle mini-book from Amazon: “Are You There God? It’s Me Mary: The Shangri-Las and the Punk Rock Love Song” by Tracy Landecker.